Long list of volunteers ‘bring community in’ to rest home

Every day they’re turning up, at all hours and and for all sorts of reasons. It might be to deliver Meals on Wheels out into the community, to conduct the weekly church service or to tend the old fashioned garden lush with spring flowers. Or it could be to help organise crafts and activities, give a recital or concert or simply strum a ukulele.

Whatever their reasons for visiting Raglan Hospital & Rest Home, which sits in a prime position on Manukau Rd with sweeping views of the harbour, community volunteers play what owner/manager Maree Burley describes as “a huge part” in the running of the town’s only aged care facility.

Maree’s loath to single out any volunteers for special mention but rattles off an impressive list of regular helpers. Their contribution is invaluable, she says, because “they bring the community in”.

It’s a two-way thing, she adds, with volunteers enjoying that feel-good factor at the same time as residents and staff benefit from their help.

When the Chronicle visited on Monday, volunteer Margaret Huxtable was busy supervising the morning’s activities in the residents lounge in the absence of diversional therapist Jill Freeman. A retired registered nurse, Margaret’s more usually seen serving residents morning tea on Friday mornings while then delivering Meals on Wheels to locals from the rest home kitchen from noon the same day.

But besides fitting in where needed first thing this week, she was also looking to fill in meantime for stalwart Fred Gilbert who’s always helped deliver Wednesday’s mobile meals. The nonagenarian is recovering from a recent stroke “and I don’t want him worrying”, says Margaret.

“It’s such a pleasure to work here, it’s so beautiful,” she says of the 1950s maternity hospital-turned-rest home.  At the same time as talking to the Chronicle she’s conducting a quiz and also reminiscing lightheartedly with the residents about men’s underpants being cut from calico in the old days.

“And shorts were made of flour bags!” she laughs.

Enter local St Peter’s minister Kathleen Gavin, wearing an apron and wheeling a laden tea trolley. She’s been serving up Monday’s morning teas here so long – a decade at least – that she knows exactly what each of the oldies has and how they like it.

Kathleen serves morning tea. From left: Margaret Galloway, Helen Povey and Andy Galloway with Margaret looking on
Kathleen serves morning tea. From left: Margaret Galloway, Helen Povey and Andy Galloway with Margaret looking on

And she’s likely to be back the next day, Tuesday morning, to run the church service. She and three others including her fellow Anglican minister Rev Rhonda Chung take it in turns, while Dot Williams plays the organ.

Another regular volunteer is kaumatua Sean Ellison, who visits the rest home fortnightly with a small group of others to entertain the residents. They sing, play guitar and ukulele and “provide a really wonderful, happy experience”, says Jill who is employed to coordinate activities.

“We have a wide range of musicians,” she reveals. They include a weekly pianist, a classical guitarist, two opera singers, a vocal quartet, even a violinist plucked from busking at Frankton Market.

A couple of local women also come regularly just to share reminiscences. “This is the residents’ home,” Jill points out, “and we all work in their home.”

Raglan Horticultural Society members are also welcome regulars, giving advice and help with residents’ pot-plant projects for instance.  The outdoor garden though is maintained by volunteer Sonya Drysdale along with Linda Silvester who frequently dons gloves and pulls weeds while visiting her mother Faye.

Then there’s a local librarian who brings large print books for residents to read each month.

And guest speakers who’ve volunteered their time recently have included Raglan chef Colin Chung on the publication of his cookbook ‘Kana Vinaka’, Mike Rarere on managing The Raglan House and John Lawson who this week was talking about Whaingaroa’s history.

Local school and kindergarten groups also visit regularly to sing and dance, while both senior citizens and mother-and-baby groups enjoy mixing and mingling with the elderly.    

Many volunteers reconnect with residents they knew previously out in the community, Jill adds, and all are welcome to come share a particular passion or skill – from crafts to  tool-sharpening – even if only for an occasional half hour.

Maree adds that her partner, Graeme Lawrence, is also a valuable volunteer around the place. The motorsport legend is a whiz these days at repainting rooms and handling general maintenance.

But Maree particularly misses Fred Gilbert’s input at the moment. Not only has he coordinated and delivered Meals on Wheels for years but the retired electrician would come “within seconds” of getting a call to maintain and set up the facility’s TVs, sort out the remote controls and get Freeview boxes going.

His work has been ongoing and “quite special”, she says.    

Edith Symes